A STOUSH over the controversial anti-farm trespass Bill has erupted after the Greens described the proposed legislation as “repulsive”.
Liberal Senator Chris Back has returned fire at the Greens’ description of his proposed Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill.
The Bill is aimed at animal rights activists trespassing on livestock facilities to take covert video footage and protracted delays in reporting any subsequent evidence of malicious animal cruelty offences, to proper authorities.
An inquiry by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee was tabled last month and recommended passing the Bill.
However, that support was conditional on amending the proposed 24-hour period for reporting any video footage of animal cruelty to relevant authorities to “as soon as practicable”.
But NSW Greens Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon remains staunchly opposed to the WA Senator’s Bill and last month introduced her own proposal to initiate an independent Office of Animal Welfare.
Senator Rhiannon said the proposal would create an independent statutory authority responsible for reviewing, advising and promoting the protection of animal welfare in Commonwealth regulated activities.
“While the Labor opposition want to reinstate the Inspector General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, this position is beholden to the whims of the Agriculture Minister and continues the failed Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) which has not stopped the horrific abuse of animals,” she said in a statement.
However, Senator Back took offence to the language used to describe his Bill and its intent in Senator Rhiannon’s second reading speech on her legislative proposal.
“Currently before the Senate sits Coalition Senator Back’s repulsive Private Members’ Ag-gag Bill that would prosecute without need for proof, animal welfare investigators who take visual recordings of systematic animal cruelty on Australia’s factory farms, in greyhound training grounds, in live export slaughterhouses, shearing sheds and laboratories and other animal use industries,” her speech said.
“While Labor does not support passage of the Bill, it has not condemned that Bill and the attempts to silence revelations of systematic cruelty in animal use industries.”
But Senator Back said it was “exceedingly disappointing that Senator Rhiannon would seek, in the Senate Chamber, to so badly misrepresent what she knows to be my Bill”.
He said far from prosecuting without the need for further proof, as described by the Greens, his Bill required any evidence of animal cruelty to be reported to proper authorities without extended delays.
“I don’t know how that can be gagging them,” he said.
“Secondly if they’ve got any video footage of animal cruelty, my Bill requires them to provide it to proper authorities, so how that can be prosecuting without the need for proof?
“In fact, the provision of a visual image surely leads to the enhancement of the opportunity for there being a prosecution.”
Senator Back said during the Senate inquiry into his Bill, accusations that his proposal would prevent investigations into systematic animal cruelty were addressed.
He said an expert witness at the Canberra public hearing had said if animal cruelty was stopped - at the beginning of the process - that would prevent it becoming systemic.
“Surely that must be in the best interests of the animal, of animal welfare generally and would also meet community expectations,” he said.
“And indeed if there are perpetrators of animal cruelty, surely this is the best way of exiting them from the control of animals or the husbandry of animals or participation in the industry.
“I think these are extremely disappointing things for a fellow Senator to say in a second reading speech and if and when this Bill is debated in the Senate chamber, I’ll certainly be making my point much stronger.”
Senator Rhiannon’s speech said the independent Office - directed by its CEO - would have the ability to “truly independently examine and report on the continuing frameworks that perpetuate and excuse infliction of terrible suffering on other living beings – the animals we eat, we wear, we use for entertainment and profit”.
“It would effectively give voice to those animals, where the Coalition and Labor have refused that voice,” she said.
Senator Back said he would examine the Greens’ proposed Bill in more detail but stressed that, under the constitution, land management - including livestock and animal management - was a state issue and not the federal government’s responsibility.
He said he would also oppose the Bill if its objective was “quite simply to wipe out the live animal export trade”.
“Knowing my discussions over time with Senator Rhiannon that probably is the Bill’s intention but those of us, who support the live export trade, will very strongly defend its role internationally in elevating animal welfare standards in our target markets,” he said.
But Senator Rhiannon said the Greens’ Bill “allows a constitutionally valid federal response to animal cruelty issues around Australia”.
She said it also provided a new opportunity for the two major parties to show Australians they believed the suffering of animals in animal use industries was unacceptable.
“In 2012, the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party Caucus endorsed the Caucus Live Animal Export Working Group to develop a model for an Office of Animal Welfare, which reported back to the then Labor Agriculture Minister in 2013,” she said.
“In a time-honoured buck-passing statement, the then Labor Minister of Agriculture responded to the Greens’ questioning about the Office that ‘there is work to be done in this area but the primary responsibility for animal welfare issues does remain with the state and territories’.”
“There is nothing to stop Labor supporting this Bill and verifying its political will and the strength of truth of its asserted – but as yet unproven – commitment to the welfare of the animals that are captive to our care and good will.”